April 4, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Q. Question for Barbara and Willnett. Can you talk about the presence of McCarville and how you guys overcame that today?
BARBARA TURNER: I think for the most part it was a team effort. But Willnett did a really good job of in the second half just getting her off the position that she wanted to get. I think that was really important down the stretch in the second half. It's what kind of helped us pull through the game.
WILLNETT CROCKETT: I think pretty much we came in with a game plan. We Jessica and Barbara just limited her touches and pretty much kept her off the offensive boards. And I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight.
Q. Diana, I guess by your standards you had sort of a mediocre night I hate to say it but all of a sudden other players around you step up. I wonder if you could talk about the weapons you've got beyond yourself on this team.
DIANA TAURASI: Yeah, this team has been like this the whole year. People step up when they need to, make plays. That's the confidence we have in each other. I think that was built last year and this year is a different level where we don't have to have someone get 40 every night to win. We can grind the game out like this where our defense and our rebounding kind of take us through the game and the last two minutes make our free throws and make a couple plays and we won the game and I thought it was great today.
Q. Diana, can you talk a little bit about just the runs that Minnesota kept making every time it look like you were going to take control of the game they kept coming back?
DIANA TAURASI: Yeah, every time you think we got to nine or 10 they would come down, get a 3, Whalen would get in the lane, find someone. And that's just the character of the team. They weren't going to give up. They made it this far and they were going to fight and crawl until the last seconds. And they kept making big plays, big shots and fortunately enough we had the response every single time. They cut it to 3 or 2. So I think that it's hat's off to our team.
Q. Diana, can you talk about the defense that Shannon Bolden played and then did they help a lot on you as well or did she have a pretty good second half defensively it seemed like?
DIANA TAURASI: Yeah, they doubled. The second half basically doubled and we found some players, we found Maria a couple times when Barbara got the offensive rebound so when you go against a good defensive team, it's not just one person, kind of like we did to Lindsay tonight. We threw a lot of different looks at her and it's tough.
Q. Did it add to the excitement at all for you guys to know before the game that Tennessee won and that you would be playing Tennessee if you won against Minnesota?
DIANA TAURASI: No. We were playing to win a game, to win a national championship no matter who we played. So it's Tennessee, so we weren't playing any harder because we're playing Tennessee on Monday or whenever we play.
Q. Diana, everybody talks about the growth of women's basketball and the burgeoning popularity, but it always seems to come down to Connecticut and Tennessee. Do you think that in a general sense that's good for the sport, that you have two dominant programs like the New York Yankees?
DIANA TAURASI: For the most part I would think people would like someone else to be in the finals, but as long as I'm wearing the Connecticut jersey I don't care what people think. We're going to be in the finals. So there's good and bad to everything. So, I don't know.
Q. Diana and Barbara, can you talk about the job Willnett did on the offensive glass and defensive glass, the points she was able to score and the things she was able to do. It seems like it was probably one of the biggest games of her career.
DIANA TAURASI: Willnett saves her energy for March. (Laughter.) And she proves us right again. So Willnett does a great job when we ask Willnett to do something and Coach puts a challenge, and today McCarville was probably the best post player we have played all year, and I think Willnett stepped up to the plate even though she, McCarville, had a pretty good game, she had 18, but I think they weren't easy. And she didn't get them in big possession. And that is hat's off to Willnett and she did a great job and Jess and Barbara had her a couple times and they did a great job.
BARBARA TURNER: I agree. Before the game Coach just talked about Jessica and Willnett, kind of containing her and not letting her get a lot of touches and I give a lot of credit to Willnett for once again stepping up in a game where there's a big physical post player and she's known to play really well against big and physical post players. And I give her a lot of credit for that.
Q. Diana, can you talk about Ann's play and Maria's play, given coming off not scoring and Ann had a key 3 and Maria had some key 3's.
DIANA TAURASI: They just seem to step up big every time we needed a basket or just today I think they probably had the two best games. Maria and Ann they were just so solid in everything they did. Ann had the probably second toughest assignment with guarding Whalen the whole game with A B so they did use a lot of energy there many and then to hit a big 3 and Maria hit a couple big shots in the first half. They're just tough guys. A lot of people were getting on them because they didn't score in the Penn State game. But that didn't affect them. And they did what we need for them to do to win.
Q. D, especially in the second half, how important was Willnett?
DIANA TAURASI: She was big. She made a big play after big play. Offensive rebounds. When we had a probably a really bad possession and the ball just fell and was rolling around, picked it up, put it in. Defensively she did a great job. And that's the contribution we need from her. To beat a good team and to beat a really, really good team that we played today. So I think she was a big key to how well we played.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We're going to let these ladies go back to their locker room. Now we'll go to questions for Geno.
Q. You played some strong, relentless teams this season, maybe even a couple that beat you. What seemed different about Minnesota, because there seems to be a bit of admiration in your voice for what they did tonight.
GENO AURIEMMA: I don't like playing against teams that are really, really smart. And they're really smart. And I don't like playing against teams that really believe that they can beat you. And they really believed they can beat us. I thought they came into the game with a sense of purpose and they never wavered from it. Somebody mentioned we got up to 11 I think at one time. And it didn't phase them one bit. They would come down and knock in a 3 or make a play. And I don't think at any point during the game did they ever look at us and say, this is Connecticut and we're Minnesota and we don't belong here. And I really admire that in them. As I say in my opening statement, I've been fortunate to coach some really, really good players. And I would love the opportunity to Coach Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville.
Q. Can you address any lingering misconception that you're a one-star team yet so many other players stepped up in the stretch tonight?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah. Other than the Naismith Award, Diana didn't get any award this year. So there's a lot of perception around the country that she's not the best player in America. And that bothers me and it bothers a lot of other people. But I don't know that it bothers her. Because she's not out to be the best player in the country. She's out to be on the best team in the country. And one of the things that she does better than anybody else is she instills a lot of confidence in her teammates. That 3 pointer that Ann Strother made. She had to listen for a whole week about going scoreless in the Penn State game. And then that came right after about 7 possessions back and forth where it looked like a hockey game played by the Keystone Cops. And she just calmly set up and knocked it in. Some other kid may have just passed up on that opportunity. Ashley Battle last year, I couldn't trust Ashley Battle to make free throws last year. But she's gotten a lot of confidence from being around D and listening to D, telling her how good she is every single day. Same with Willnett. I'm upset at Willnett every single day of the year. But Diana's constantly telling her how good she is. So forget all the strengths that Diana has as a player, she just has so many strengths in what she is able to help our other players do.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the defense that Minnesota put on and especially with Shannon Bolden and just the history that she had had in the last couple of games of containing the top players and how you saw that tonight.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, they play well as a team defensively. I don't think in the NCAA Tournament there's any one match-up that's going to be any bigger than others. I thought their whole game plan was really, really good. And I also thought that their intensity level, the whole team, was as good as I've seen this year. They were just really hard to play against. And thank goodness, the officials let us play, the game was pretty much called evenly on both sides. You look at the statsheet and it's unbelievable how similar both, all the columns are for each team. So two good defensive teams, two teams that I think mirror each other in so many ways. And it was a great ballgame, it really was.
Q. So much talk about parity this year in the tournament, a lot of upsets and good teams like Texas and Duke lost it. Yet Tennessee and UConn go through this and meet in the final game. What separates them apart from the other teams, do you think right now?
GENO AURIEMMA: Maybe -- I mean you can't discount the talent level. And that's not to say that we have any more talent than anyone else, the two of us, Tennessee and us. I just think the expectations that are placed on the players by the respective coaching staffs of both of those schools are just different than some of the expectations placed on some other kids at other schools. And that might be the best way that I can explain it. There's an expectation level that exists and there is no choice. You don't congratulate yourself and have a parade for losing in the Sweet 16 or going to the final 8 and well, we'll get them next year. So maybe it's that kind of mentality that allows us to play well at this time of the year.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Geno, thank you very much.
GENO AURIEMMA: Thank you.
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